Catechism of the Catholic Church

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The Catechism of the Catholic Church, or CCC, is an official exposition of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, first published in French in 1992 with the authorization of Pope John Paul II.[1] To correspond exactly with the official text in Latin,[2] which appeared in 1997, five years later, the French text was then amended at a few points.[3] It has since been translated into many other languages, including English, and became an instant best-seller in each showing that the world desperately hungered for an authoritative voice on Roman Catholic positions.



The word "catechism" has been defined as "a summary of principles, often in question-and-answer format"[4]. Although handbooks of religious instruction have been written since the time of the Church Fathers, the term "catechism" was first applied to them in the sixteenth century, beginning with Martin Luther’s 1529 publications. Mostly, they are meant for use in class or other formal instruction.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for which the usual abbreviation is CCC, is instead rather a source on which to base such catechisms and other expositions of Catholic doctrine. It was given, as stated in the Apostolic Constitution Fidei depositum,[5] with which its publication was ordered, "that it may be a sure and authentic reference text for teaching catholic doctrine and particularly for preparing local catechisms."

CCC is arranged in four principal parts:

  • The Profession of Faith (the Creed)
  • The Celebration of the Christian Mystery (the Sacred Liturgy, especially the sacraments)
  • Life in Christ (including the Ten Commandments)
  • Christian Prayer (including the Lord’s Prayer)

The contents are richly footnoted with references to sources of the teaching found in the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, and the Ecumenical Councils.[6]


Some Orthodox theologians have expressed appreciation of CCC, while not agreeing with all of its contents. Those of Protestant tradition find much more to disagree with. "Traditionalist Catholic" too claim to find in CCC teachings inconsistent with traditional Catholic theology and thus mainly revert to the Roman Catechism which came out of the Council of Trent. Some argue that the CCC is Critique of CCC unclear theology on the union of the Son of God with human nature; implicit acceptance of the theory of evolution; a "supposition that the Hebrew faith is under a separate covenantial relationship with God"; openness to ecclesial communities (e.g. Protestants) not in communion with the Pope; acceptance of the efficacy and justice of religious gatherings involving non-Catholics; encouragement for a collaboration with secular society that tends to promote a sense of working for mankind rather than for the Church; an incipient suggestion that homosexuality is not to be classified as of the same ultimate species (a scholastic term) as zoophilia.

Although theological opinion was not intended to be a part of CCC, [7], some maintain that it "does not distinguish between matters of faith and theological opinion."¹

Some, desiring a simpler text instead of so diffuse and "ponderous" a book, object to what they consider its lack of the clarity they see in thirteenth-century St. Thomas Aquinas[8] and in the 1885 Baltimore Catechism.[9]

They contrast two descriptions of "venial sin":

Venial sin in Baltimore Catechism [10]

Venial sin in CCC [11]

Q. 290. What is venial sin?
A. Venial sin is a slight offense against the law of God in matters of less importance, or in matters of great importance it is an offense committed without sufficient reflection or full consent of the will.

Q. 291. Can we always distinguish venial from mortal sin?
A. We cannot always distinguish venial from mortal sin, and in such cases we must leave the decision to our confessor.

Q. 292. Can slight offenses ever become mortal sins?
A. Slight offenses can become mortal sins if we commit them through defiant contempt for God or His law; and also when they are followed by very evil consequences, which we foresee in committing them.

Q. 293. Which are the effects of venial sin?
A. The effects of venial sin are the lessening of the love of God in our heart, the making us less worthy of His help, and the weakening of the power to resist mortal sin.

1862. One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent.

1863. Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul's progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not break the covenant with God. With God's grace it is humanly reparable. "Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness" (Pope John Paul II, Reconciliatio et paenitentia, 17 §9).

While he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call ‘light’; if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession... (St Augustine, In ep. Jo. 1,6: PL 35, 1982)

One specific criticism of the CCC is that it is sexist. Paragraph 489 says (footnotes omitted):

Throughout the Old Covenant the mission of many holy women prepared for that of Mary. At the very beginning there was Eve; despite her disobedience, she receives the promise of a posterity that will be victorious over the evil one, as well as the promise that she will be the mother of all the living. By virtue of this promise, Sarah conceives a son in spite of her old age. Against all human expectation God chooses those who were considered powerless and weak to show forth his faithfulness to his promises: Hannah, the mother of Samuel; Deborah; Ruth; Judith and Esther; and many other women. Mary 'stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord, who confidently hope for and receive salvation from him. After a long period of waiting the times are fulfilled in her, the exalted Daughter of Sion, and the new plan of salvation is established.'

The paragraph deals only with women, but does not suggest that the "poor and humble" through whom, against human expectation, God did great things were all women. There is an extensive exegetical literature about the "poor and humble", in Hebrew "anawim", who are presented favourably in the Bible as showing far more faith in God than the rich and mighty. The word "anawim" has also been translated as "lowly", "meek", "powerless", "needy", "weak", "afflicted", "depressed". Society looked down on them, but Scripture praises them (see, for instance, Psalm 22:26, Isaiah 61:1, Zephaniah 2:3 and 3:11-12). It is true that, in Hebrew society of the time (not necessarily in the view of the Catechism), women "were considered powerless and weak"; but the point is that it was precisely through such God-devoted people that God showed his power. Any notion that the term applies only or even primarily to women should disappear when it is recalled that exactly the same Hebrew term is used of Moses: "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men that were upon the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3). In this verse, the Hebrew word translated as "man" is that for males; the word translated as "men" is that for human beings in general.

Romano Amerio states that in the Catholic Church there has been a conscious attempt to adopt "a more humble and fraternal attitude...that of a search for the truth",² for which he quotes Pope Paul VI. This, he claims, has led to a shift away from presenting dogma as fact and toward presenting the Catholic faith itself as a search for truth, a shift that he says CCC reflects.

The Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum states that "the contents are often presented in a new way in order to respond to the questions of our age." Amerio declares that the "new catechesis...attempts to produce existential reactions rather than intellectual conviction."³


Whether one considers these criticisms well-founded or baseless, CCC is clearly the best source today for knowledge of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, both in general and on particular questions that were not raised in previous official compilations, such as the Catechism of Pope Pius V or of the Council of Trent,[12] or that of Pope Pius X[13]. It is an authoritative source, declared by Pope John Paul II to be "a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion."[14]

CCC is also, in the quotations it gives, a handy reference source for Church Fathers and other Church writings, as well as for Scripture.

The interest in Church teachings that CCC has stirred even in circles beyond the Catholic faithful was noted by Pope Benedict XVI prior to his becoming Pope [15]:

It clearly show[s] that the problem of what we must do as human beings, of how we should live our lives so that we and the world may become just, is the essential problem of our day, and basically of all ages. After the fall of ideologies, the problem of man — the moral problem — is presented to today's context in a totally new way: What should we do? How does life become just? What can give us and the whole world a future which is worth living? Since the catechism treats these questions, it is a book which interests many people, far beyond purely theological or ecclesial circles.[16]

External links

Sites that carry the full English text

Sites that carry comments on the CCC


  • 1 Msgr. Michael J. Wrenn & Kenneth D. Whitehead, Flawed Expectations: The Reception of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Ignatius Press, 1996, ISBN 0898705916, p. 208.
  • 2 Romano Amerio, Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth Century, 1996, Sarto House, ISBN 0963903217, §130.
  • 3 Amerio, op. cit., §132.
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